What Does Restorative Justice in Schools Look Like?

Most of us are familiar with indoor and outdoor suspension, detention, and expulsions as repercussions for student misbehavior. However, there is a new methodology being adopted by many schools: restorative justice. Restorative practices-based education focuses on mediation and agreement rather than punishing students for unwanted behavior. Restorative justice in schools aims to address students’ misconduct by having them accept responsibility for their actions, confront the underlying issues causing the behavior, and provide real-life skills to help them deal with difficult situations. 

Restorative justice in schools is implemented in a 3-tiered system that focuses on creating community, establishing processes, and providing a welcoming environment for students who have been displaced due to their misbehavior. 

Tier 1 – Prevention: Following the behavioral disruption, students are taught social emotional skills and practices to form relationships and promote restorative practices among each other. The goal is to build a community with conditions that promote learning. 

Tier 2 – Intervention: This process promotes healing for those affected by someone’s action. It also holds those responsible accountable and addresses the root causes of the harm. This is done by using non-punitive actions such as mediation and group conferencing. 

Tier 3 – Reintegration: In cases where measures such as suspension, expulsion, incarceration, or truancy occur, students are supported during their reintegration into school to avoid regression. 

Potential Benefits of Restorative Justice in Schools 

There are a number of documented benefits to implementing restorative justice in schools. These include:

  • Building healthy relationships between educators and students
  • Reduction and prevention of harmful behaviors 
  • Restoring positive behaviors 
  • Resolving conflict and holding individuals and groups accountable 
  • Addressing and discussing the needs of the school community 

“Implemented well, RJ shifts the focus of discipline from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community.” –Shane Safir

A WestEd Research Review found that implementing restorative justice in schools gives teachers more time to focus on academics instead of discipline. In addition, restorative justice has been shown to have a positive impact on attendance and reduce absenteeism. The research shows that punitive and exclusionary approaches to address absence and truancy may backfire. As such, approaches may prevent youth from reengaging with school. Across all studies, absenteeism improved after the implementation of a restorative justice practice in the school. And most importantly, students are learning skills that they need to address the root of the problem.  

Restorative Justice and SEL

According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), the implementation of restorative justice and SEL together can enhance outcomes such as improved school and classroom climate, improved attendance and engagement, reductions in exclusionary practices, and reduce disproportionality in discipline. Both, restorative justice and SEL aim to improve the five SEL competency areas: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Restorative justice and SEL are complementary practices. Implemented together, they support aligned goals and enhance outcomes, such as improved school or classroom climate, improved attendance and engagement, reductions in exclusionary discipline practices such as suspensions, and reduced disproportionality in discipline. This is why BASE Education includes a restorative practices module in the platform content. The module defines restorative practices, outlines types of harm, discusses the importance of creating safety in one’s environment, and specifies ways in which to establish safety and trust. If you would like to learn more about BASE, we invite you to schedule a demo.